I have been thinking about the politics of this blog. Is this blog left wing? Or right wing? I don’t think it’s either: it’s my very own wing. As I’ve explained to my friend Cherryripe, the reason I am such a prodigious blogger is that I jot down ideas for posts all the time (usually when the baby is asleep, like now) and I let them percolate until they resolve into a post. This post is an amalgamation of about 5 half-posts. So apologies if it’s a little long.
Now that I’ve gotten into this blogging business, I find the politics of the blogosphere a little scary. Much of it seems so personal, with “flame wars” and “trolling”. Sometimes it’s really hard to get behind the self-congratulatory left wing or right wing rhetoric on other blogs, with everyone slapping themselves on the back and just confirming their views, rather than thinking about them. To be honest, it reminds me of different cliques at high school! I try not to take things personally, to give everyone “a go” and never, ever to attack anyone on a personal basis. I also try to take my own approach, and not get sidetracked by ideas of what I “should” believe. I would like to say thank you to the readers of my blog: as far as I can tell, you all give me a go!
My guiding principles are as follows:
- Factual analysis;
- Moral consistency; and
- Disavowal of the politics of fear.
I think it is very important to have empathy for our fellow human beings. I always try to think how I would feel if I were in a certain situation. How would I feel if I were the parent of a murdered child? If I were Saddam Hussein facing the death penalty? If I were an indigenous person in Australia? If I were a Muslim woman? If I were a Jewish man who had been racially vilified by a bus full of footballers in front of my children? If one of my family members had been killed by terrorists? If I were a rape victim? If I were a non-legally qualified person with a problem?
As a child, I was bullied because of difficulties I had in walking (later remedied by an operation when I was a teenager). I hate sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination. As a result of my childhood, I can vividly imagine how awful it is to be discriminated against or bullied. This is why I hate anti-Semitism so much. I know what it feels like to be discriminated against because of something you were born with and can’t change. When I hear anti-Semitic opinions, I can’t help picturing my Jewish friends and colleagues in my head and I think, “You are talking about my friends“. It makes me feel extremely angry.
On this topic, I was watching the documentary Hitler and Speer on SBS recently. I also saw Anthony Sher performing Primo Levi’s If this is a man as a dramatic monologue (Levi’s account of his time in the lager). I found these shows really disturbing. How could an apparently intelligent, sane person such as Speer have been taken in by Hitler? Hitler was a classic charismatic bully. People are selfish: they would rather be on the side of the dictator, safe from harm, and ignore the persecuted minority. So they close off their empathy towards those who are being persecuted. I wonder: is Speer a worse person than Hitler? He at least had the capacity to be a decent person, but chose to close his eyes to the truth, and to close his eyes to the suffering of people like Levi.
My mother found it very strange that my first value would be empathy. But I think it’s entirely in character: to thine own self be true! I did a psychological test a while back which showed that I always tend to react to things with emotion and empathy first. Sometimes I’m too empathetic, and end up taking on other people’s problems and trying to fix them. I had to cut that back; it was making me depressed.
However, one of the reasons why I don’t usually publish my blog posts straight away is that I think it is very important not to judge too quickly, and too emotionally. As I have explained to Iain, I chose my avatar with this in mind. His name is Justice Kekewich, and the cartoon of him comes from Punch magazine. The subtitle to the original cartoon is “A hasty Judge”. He looks nothing like me in any way, but he suits the kind of curmudgeonly grumping I like to do on my soapbox. Also, he’s a reminder to me to slow down and not be a hasty judge myself.
This leads on nicely to my next guiding principle. I also think it’s very important to analyse issues not only with emotion, but also with some kind of factual basis behind me. Of course, as any lawyer knows, establishing the truth of a matter is notoriously difficult. Is the data on which I base my opinion correct? What do other people say? What if it turns out that the information I have used for my opinion is incorrect? I think that one always has to be open-minded and always ready to process new information.
Further, I am always somewhat wary of statistics. It all depends on how one asks the questions, how one defines things, and to whom one puts the questions. I am put in mind of the quote attributed by Mark Twain to Benjamin Disraeli: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” [When I was looking for that quotation on Google, I found another really nice one by Aaron Levenstein: “Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.”]
Sometimes I feel that I don’t have enough facts or information to come to a concluded view. Readers of this blog will know that this is how I feel about “climate change” or “global warming”. I think I could safely describe myself as a “climate change agnostic”. As I’ve said in a previous post, I’m just not convinced yet that climate change is a result of human agency, but I could be convinced if further information was presented to me in a proper scientific fashion by someone who was relatively objective. I know objectivity is not de rigeur these days, but I think one should at least try to be objective.
It annoys me when people parrot a “left wing” or “right wing” point of view because they think this is what they should believe, without thinking about it more deeply or looking at facts which may suggest their point of view is mistaken. I don’t mind what a person’s beliefs are, as long as the person at least thinks about their opinions and is openminded about facts and the other side of the story. I also like it when people raise questions which make me think about why I believe as I do. All the blogs in my links have made me think, and I enjoy reading their opinions.
I try to remain morally consistent. Sometimes I think there’s not much of that in politics these days. Let’s take the Iraq War. The Left love to hold Bush responsible for leading to the death of thousands of innocent Iraqis, the Right love to hold the Islamists responsible for the death of thousands of innocent people as a result of terrorism (Iraqis, English, Americans, Australians, Spanish, Israelis and more). It seems to me that if one is morally consistent, one must abhor the death of innocent people however caused (whether by the actions of Bush or Islamist terrorists). My own position is that there may be political reasons behind the actions of both Bush and the Islamist terrorists, but that’s no comfort for the innocents who have died as a result. It’s not like being a solider: no innocent people who died had a choice as to whether to they would get caught up in another’s battle.
I also believe that when I decry the comments of Sheik Hilaly about rape and I support White Ribbon Day, I am expressing the same basic principle: a strong belief that women have a right to be safe and free from violence.
Here’s an interesting example of moral consistency (thanks to a loyal reader for alerting me). According to this article, Mormons who believe in polygamy are using the same consultants as those who want to promote same-sex marriage. If you believe that marriage is more than just the union of a man and a woman, and that consenting adults are entitled to conduct their relationships in a number of legitimate ways, then logically you must support both polygamous Mormons and same-sex marriages. (I like to think about the logical consequences of a moral stance in this way.)
Disavowal of the politics of fear
I read a book called The Gentle Art of Persuasion by Chester Porter QC a while back, and something Porter said really resonated with me. He said that using fear to get your point across is not an intelligent way to put an argument.
There is so much “politics of fear” at the moment. Fear doesn’t make for intelligent, reasoned decisions: people make panicked, knee-jerk reactions based on prejudice rather than fact. Let’s have a look at two examples of the politics of fear.
On the Right, there’s fear of terrorism and, related to this, fear of Islam. I reject this fear. Now, as I’ve argued previously, this doesn’t mean that one should deny that there are Muslims who advocate terrorism or jihad, but it’s important to remember that these people are in a minority in Australia. As I have said before, I take each person as I find him or her, and I try not to base my opinion of a person on generalisations about religion, race or sexuality. Also, fear is exactly the emotion terrorists want to engender. If you fear them, you let them win.
On the Left, there is a fear of global warming and/or climate change. The message I’ve been getting lately is that we have to do something about climate change right now because otherwise the whole wo-o-o-o-o-orld will collapse! I reject this fear too. Even if the climate does change, humans are amazingly versatile and adaptive creatures and have withstood a number of massive climate changes in the past. When I was at high school in England, my best friend was a neo-Marxist. I am afraid that I made her very angry one day by joking that global warming would be the best thing to happen to England in the last million years, and that perhaps it would mean I could get decent tropical fruit rather than horrid mangos shipped in from the Phillipines. I was thoroughly sick of the weather and the food in the North of England by that point! But jokes aside, is the end really nigh? I think it’s important to think about it logically and not just make knee-jerk reactions based on emotion and fear.
Perhaps part of the reason why the politics of fear has such a hold these days is that the media thrives on fear. I admit that I generalise here, but the media loves a good scary story. Saying that “The Sky is About to Fall on Our Heads!” is a whole lot more punchy than “It seems that there is a small risk that the sky will fall on our heads, but it is not clear what the ramifications of this will be or whether we can actually do anything about it…” I don’t like scaremongering of any stripe. So when I read something which is attempting to scare me, I try to dig in my heels, remain unscared, and think logically.
Well, that’s an explanation about this blog, and where I’m coming from. I haven’t really got much else to say, except thank you for reading and/or commenting on my posts.
P.S. Oh yes, the artwork is mine too. The eagle was done with my Japanese marbling set and a Japanese brush pen. The cartoon was done quickly in my Moleskine. An idea for another post is the synergies between law, art and history…but that’s for another day.